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Federal Narcotics Laws Can Still Trump Tribal Sovereignty

A high-profile criminal investigation of two marijuana cultivation facilities on Native American trust lands in California is a reminder that despite recent U.S. Department of Justiceassurances of possible prosecutorial forbearance, tribes considering violating the federal drug laws — even for the sake of much-needed economic development — may do so at their peril.

At first blush, the latest joint federal-state task force operation in Northern California looks like many others that have unfolded there and elsewhere for decades. On July 8, special agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services, along with state and county officers, searched two separate but linked marijuana grow operations on the Alturas Indian Rancheria and the Pit River XL Ranch Reservation in Northeastern California. They seized at least 12,000 marijuana plants and 100 pounds of processed marijuana.

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